Missed Connections

We seem to be relentlessly connected to one another but we have never been more alone.
I recently sat at a table at a restaurant and at the next table was a middle aged woman, a teenaged girl and a man who was probably the girl’s grandfather and near 80 years old. The elderly man was talking to the woman and the teenager. I watched the scene. The middle aged woman was listening to the elderly man but the teenager was holding her phone in front of her face, blocking the view of her grandfather. The girl’s thumbs were flying as she texted friends.
This young girl was missing out on a chance to talk with her grandfather who was seated in front of her and texting presumably “some friends.”
Another young girl, a 17-year old, recently asked me to guess how many texts she wrote last month. I guessed about 6,000. She smiled and showed me her display screen which displayed her total of over 11,900 texts for the month. That works out to about 396 texts a day for the month.
One writer in the Seattle Times Sunday Magazine recently wrote that “here people you think you know can click on your name and either add you to their lives or delete you in an instant. No muss, no fuss. It’s all so impersonal yet hard not to take personally.”
Recently Todd Rutherford of PublishingGuru.com wrote about this theme in “The Illusion of Certainty.”
Greg Messel’s The Illusion of Certainty illuminates how technology has created an illusion of certainty for humans, making us feel as though we can “carefully monitor and control the events in our life.” Although the electronic tools we use give us a sense of power, they inevitably break down the paths of human communication and give us a false sense of control, as if we could control humans as we control our schedules and daily tasks.
Messel describes how his protagonist, Marc, has “automated his life,” checking in to flights online, using his Hertz Number One card to “skip standing in line at the counter with the unwashed masses” by going directly to the parking lot, checking the electronic board for his name, and going directly to the designated stall number, checking into hotels with a swipe of a credit card at an electronic kiosk, and communicating with his project team through electronic messages, precluding him from social interaction completely. The automation of his life begins extending from his work life into his family life, texting and e-mailing his children instead of calling them; “Marc used simple, short texts to accomplish what was passing these days for staying in touch with his children.”
When Marc does eventually see his son face-to-face, his son’s life is also automated, incessantly texting rather than talking to his father who is directly in front of him, part of a generation that “documents everything too much.” He reminds his son that he “didn’t travel a thousand miles so I could sit here and watch you text your friends” and asks him to “cease and desist on texting,” reminding him; “I’m actually here. You do know I’m real, not a hologram or MPEG or something, right?” He strives to build a genuine conversation between two people who no longer know how to communicate without electronic support; “Josh, let’s look into one another’s eyes and talk. People used to do that and it worked nicely.”
Messel illuminates how deeply technological control of our lives has been ingrained in our vocabulary and thought patterns when a co-worker of Marc’s encourages him to “reboot” his life, as though there is a button that you can push to re-set life. In the Illusion of Certainty, Messel highlights the fact that all of these tools only serve to give us a false sense of control over our lives, as Marc’s carefully controlled life spins very much out of the control of his electronic tools, with no “reboot” button, and illustrates that as members of a modern society, we no longer know how to interact with humans, with each other.

The characters in my new novel discover the healing impact of the human touch.


About gregmessel

I've written six novels and am working on a seventh. My first three novels were "Expiation," "Sunbreaks" and "The Illusion of Certainty." I'm now working on a series of mysteries set in San Francisco in the 1950s. In 2008, I retired from corporate life and so I can spend more time writing. I spent over ten years in the newspaper business. I now live on Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, just north of downtown Seattle.
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